Author Archives: Peter Ward

Peter Ward

About Peter Ward

Peter Ward is a librarian at the Brentwood Public Library.

Utopia: The Village of Modern Times


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Among_the_Pines_Brentwood_NYOne spring morning, readers of the New York Tribune opened the paper to discover the surprising news that Utopia had appeared overnight. Where inequality, strife, turmoil, mutual hatred, and oppression had previously ruled over human history, in this new place, men and women were said to be, even now, living together in a state of peace, harmony, and equity.

Readers were surprised, even disbelieving. Others, who had followed certain hints and implications, wondered if this might be, perhaps, the fulfillment of certain obscure promises by the great reformers of the day: the Greeleys, the Ballous, the Comtes. Continue reading

Thoreau’s Long Island Railroad Sojourn


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Thompson’s Station “About ninety years ago, there was born in Concord, Mass, a boy who never really grew to be a man, though he lived forty-four years. It is true that he got to be tall and strong, with a deep bass voice; that he wore a beard, and that from all external appearances he would have at once been taken for a full-sized man. But at heart he was always a boy. He never got over the habit of looking at things from a boy’s point of view. Instead of regarding the world as a place for serious business, where men must work so many hours a day and produce so many dollars’ worth of goods, and till the fields and labor hard in factories, or offices, or stores, and ‘get along’ – instead of all these things, he always seemed to consider the world as a great, fine, glorious playground — a place to be enjoyed and appreciated. This man-boy was Henry David Thoreau.” – From Gilbert P. Coleman’s “The Man Who Was Always A Boy.” Continue reading

The Extinction of the Long Island Heath Hen


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Turvey Heath Hen IllustrationRecently, the federal government of the United States relaxed land-use restrictions designed protecting the greater sage-grouse, hoping the change might spur economic development via increased oil and gas excavation and expansion of cattle grazing areas. The grouse, a strange chicken-sized bird known for its flamboyant displays of plumage and bizarre, warbling vocalizations, once made its home on the great western prairies of the United States and numbered in the millions. Where settlers once encountered birds blanketing the landscape, today a mere five-hundred thousand remain.

A similar bird once inhabited the more eastern portions of the United States. The heath hen, a sub-species of grouse, exhibiting a similar appearance and familiar behaviors, extended along the coast as far North as Massachusetts, South to Virginia, and East to Pennsylvania. In New York, an environment of scrub oak and pine trees made Long Island an attractive home for the hens. Their habitat stretched from the pine barrens of Suffolk County west to the Hempstead Plains. (John Bull in his Birds of New York State notes that they may have also appeared in the scrub and sand plains west of Albany). As in other locations, it is generally assumed that here, a combination of hunting and habitat change led to the hens extinction. Still, it is only an educated assumption – the the Long Island heath hen and the causes for its extinction have gone largely unexplored. Continue reading

Strange Phenomena: The New York Railroad Storm


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Shining Auroral CloudRecently a study of the cause of “bright nights” – evenings on which the sky gives enough light to read a book or newspaper – appeared in Geophysical Research Letters before being reported in a number of newspapers and popular scientific publications. Part of the story’s appeal is undoubtedly the claim that such strange phenomena have been experienced repeatedly and regularly throughout history.

Pliny the Elder, for instance, is said to have described the appearance of a “nocturnal sun” and the transformation of night into day, while an 1842 description recalls ne’er-do- wells exposed by a midnight at once transformed into midafternoon. The letters of mid-19th century Parisians reported surprise at being able to make out people and objects previously obscured by shadow. The reports of a Copenhagen observatory of the early 20th include a more scientific accounting. That such astronomical oddities, though infrequent, occur regularly would suggest that New York ought to have had its share of bright nights. Continue reading

Unpacking Long Island’s Support For World War One


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Chancellor Von Bethmann-Hollweg“New York State has prepared for war.” The headlines of the South Side Signal for April 6, 1917 announced the entry of the United States into conflict. “Local War Notes,” a new feature (later, simply, “War Notes,”) would chronicle Long Island developments through armistice.

On April 6th , it was announced, that, among other news items, Edwin N. Post, R.N. had been appointed head of the enrolling party for the naval reserves, establishing recruiting headquarters over Smith and Salmon’s drugstore in Babylon village. Recruits thronging to Babylon village, seventeen had already enrolled at Sayville and another fifteen at Bay Shore. Legislation had been introduced to increase the size of the naval militia, allow the state to appropriate lands, and expand punishments to those showing disrespect to the flag. Continue reading